Bow Tie Guide

Tips & Tricks

Tips for Gentlemen / Tips & Tricks 319 Views

Bow ties today are worn by people from all walks of life. Even famous people in the past have worn them such as actors Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich, and politicians like Winston Churchill, architects like Le Corbusier, scientists like Bill Nye and lots of other people.


In my experience, many men avoid bow ties because they don’t think they can pull one off, they don’t know how to tie one, or they think they don’t have the occasion to wear one. The truth is every man can pull off a bow tie and wear it well especially if you like classic style.

Today, I wear bow ties about 30% of the time and has become an integral part of my wardrobe. Once you know how to tie them, there are many occasions where you can wear one. If you are an avid wearer of bow ties, you probably know advanced ways of tying them. Hipsters wear them with just a regular shirt for everyday wear and it doesn’t have to be an evening occasion that’s very formal.

Winston Churchill wearing his signature polka dot bow tie in an iconic photograph by Yousuf Karsh

Winston Churchill wearing his signature polka dot bow tie in an iconic photograph by Yousuf Karsh

Bow Tie History

Basically, it’s one of the oldest forms of neckwear in menswear. The bow tie shares a history with the necktie in a sense that it originates from a different piece of neckwear known as the cravat. The first group of men known to decorate their neck with a piece of fabric were Croatian mercenaries in the 30 Years War in the 17th century. It became known as the cravate which is the French term for Croatian. Cravats were usually worn loosely tied in elaborate fashions and sometimes it took hours to get the look right.

The rise of bow ties

The rise of bow ties

The first bow tie that looks somewhat similar to what we know it to be today came up in the 1830’s. In the following 30 years, bow ties became progressively more prominent and by the 1860’s, the traditional cravat has fallen mostly out of favor. There’s a famous photograph of Abraham Lincoln from 1863 showing the bow tie style in transition. Lincoln is stoically staring ahead while wearing a black bow tie with pointed ends. On the other hand, his predecessor James Buchanan still wore a white cravat. Between 1850 and the turn of the century, bow ties dominated menswear and you could see them mostly in black or white or variations thereof.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

At the beginning of the 20th century, bow ties transitioned more into a specific style choice because the traditional threefold necktie became more popular now. Even though they would be progressively less popular now, they still maintain their place in classic men’s wardrobe in the first half of the 20th century. At the turn of the century, bow ties were usually quite small but frankly, there were loads of shapes and forms, much more than you can find today.

By 1910, the bow tie had grown a little bit across the board but again there are lots of choices out there. In the 30’s you’d often see smaller bow ties as well and bigger bow ties. Generally, they weren’t quite as slim as later in the 50’s or 60’s. However, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, bow ties became huge. It was the same with ties and shirt collars, sometimes also lapels.

Winston Churchill - Speech battle of Britain

Winston Churchill – Speech battle of Britain

By the 1990’s, and early 2000’s, most men would not wear bow ties anymore; it was only something reserved for people who made a deliberate style choice and who wore bow ties because other men did it. I would guess that the overall market share of bow ties at that time was about 5-10%. Thankfully, bow ties today are not nearly as subjected to trends and they’ve become much more mainstream and popular. I would estimate the market share today to be anywhere between 30-40%. It seems to me that bow ties are much more flexible than they were in the past. People wear them sometimes even with short sleeved shirts or just a dress shirt. It doesn’t require a jacket anymore and it’s just a form of self-expression.

White Dinner Jacket with Black Batswing Bow Tie

White Dinner Jacket with Black Batwing Bow Tie

Despite this gain in popularity, there are still some stereotypes that people have towards wearers of bow ties. Sometimes people think bow ties are just for nerds or worn by conservatives, eccentrics, or older men. In my experience, confident men that are stylish wear bow ties simply because they like them and that’s a way for them to express themselves. That aside, it’s much more comfortable to wear in the summer because it keeps your chest a lot cooler than any kind of necktie would. On top of that, it’s very difficult to stain your bow tie with foods, whereas with a tie, it’s very easy to do so. Of course, it has always been a staple in the prep culture and for Ivy style.

What Are The Different Types Of Bow Ties You Can Get?

Basically, there are three main categories.

1. Pre-Tied Bow Ties

This category probably has the largest share in the market. Sometimes, they also come in a clip-on version and they’re really popular with men who simply don’t know how to tie a bow tie and men who don’t usually wear one. There’s a simple rule if you want to be stylish, never wear a pre-tied bow tie because it always shows.

Typically, they are made of cheaper, less expensive, oftentimes shinier fabrics, they are very symmetrical, and it screams “My bow tie was pre-tied!”. Wearing a pre-tied bow tie makes you look like a 16-year old attending prom and frankly, we believe they shouldn’t wear them either.

Bottle Green Ancient Madder Silk Micropattern Bow tie with green and orange by Fort Belvedere - Self Tie Adjustable

Bottle Green Ancient Madder Silk Micropattern Bow tie with green and orange by Fort Belvedere – Self Tie Adjustable

2. Self-Tie Bow Ties

As the name implies, you tie it yourself every time. It seems daunting. It’s the only choice for an elegant gentleman and sometimes you can even find self-tie bow ties that have a little clip on mechanism that allows you to remove it. So once you tie it once, you don’t have to tie it again.

Personally, I think that’s not the way to do it because changing the look of your bow tie every time gives your outfit a different air and sometimes, you can decide to have a smaller bow tie, other times a bigger one, depending on your mood. Among the self-tie bow ties, there are two subcategories.

adjustable bow tie

adjustable bow tie

Adjustable Bow Ties – Usually, you find them for all kinds of daywear bow ties. The great advantage is that you can simply adjust the size so sometimes you can have a smaller tie, other times a bigger tie, and you can even lend it to your father, your brother, or friend if they need one and it’ll work for them. There are all kinds of adjustment mechanisms. Some include metal clips while others have buttons. I have all of them and in my experience, they all work.

Black Bow Tie in Silk Wide Rib Grosgrain Sized Butterfly – Fort Belvedere

Fixed-Length Self-Tie Bow Tie – First of all, why would you want to limit yourself to just one size? Basically for evening wear when you wear wing collars, the entire bow tie is visible and having a little adjustment mechanism just looks weird and odd. So what about wearing a tuxedo shirt with a turndown collar? At the end of the evening, it’s very typical practice to untie the bow tie and when it dangles there, you can still see the adjuster and because of that, it’s always advisable to go with a fixed length neck size for evening bow ties.

3. Fashion Forward Bow Ties

With the gaining popularity in recent years, we’ve seen wooden bow ties, we’ve seen bow ties made out of bird feathers, as well as leather bow ties. They’re actually not tied, they’re simply like a clip-on bow tie; they just have the shape of a traditional bow tie. Most of the time, these items are very flashy and I believe it’s a fad that won’t stand the test of time. Of course, if you literally want to look like a peacock, you can go with them. Otherwise, I suggest you stay with traditional self-tie bow ties.

Different Bow Tie Styles & Shapes

Basically, the sky is the limit and if you look at old men’s fashion magazines and books, you’ll see there were hundreds of different shapes around the market. Today, it basically boils down to five basic shapes and styles.

Black Bow Tie in Silk Shantung Sized Butterfly Self Tie

Black Bow Tie in Silk Shantung Sized Butterfly Self Tie

1. Butterfly Shape

The first one is the butterfly shape which is called that way because it resembles a butterfly. It’s a style I really like for evening bow ties. You can check out a range of butterfly bow ties by Fort Belvedere here. It’s tied in a way that the knot is relatively small and you have beautiful wings just like with a butterfly.

Also, while cheaper bow ties curve at the outer edge of the bow tie, a butterfly bow tie have straight edges. Do you want your butterfly bow tie to stand the test of time? Avoid the extremes. Don’t go too big, don’t go too small, and go with something within the middle-of-the-road. Of course, if you have a smaller head, a smaller bow tie is much more appropriate for you and vice versa.

Batswing Purple Madder Silk Bow tie with green linen pocket square - Handmade by Fort Belvedere (16 of 16)

Batwing Purple Madder Silk Bow tie with green linen pocket square – Handmade by Fort Belvedere

2. Batwing Bow Tie

The batwing is basically rectangular that gets slimmer around the neckband but it makes for a bigger knot. Because of that, it can be harder to tie and in my opinion, it sometimes looks a bit boring but ultimately, it’s a very personal choice.

Assorted Pointed End Bowties - Handmade by Fort Belvedere

Assorted Pointed End Bowties – Handmade by Fort Belvedere

3. Pointed-End Bow Tie

It’s like a little diamond and it has the advantage that it looks slightly different every time and depending on how much you pull it out on either end. In any case, it will always be asymmetrical because the pointed end is in the front on one side then the back on the other side.

Overall, it’s a great option for daywear because it creates some form of casualness that’s a little more relaxed all the while being relatively formal. In my experience, it flatters most face shapes and because of that, it’s a very versatile option.

Asymmetrical Bow Tie in Solid Olive Green Textured Wool Linen Blend

Asymmetrical Bow Tie in Solid Olive Green Textured Wool Linen Blend

4. Asymmetrical Bow Tie

The ends of the bow tie are not symmetrical either top to bottom or left side to right side. It might look really odd when a bow tie is untied but once you tie it, it creates that desired effect that something is slightly askew, not 100% symmetrical and polished.

In my experience, it’s something for people who already have lots of regular bow ties in their closet and who simply want to change the look a little bit or maybe even impress their other clotheshorse friends.

Black Single End Bow Tie in Silk Moire Butterfly Self Tie - Fort Belvedere

Black Single End Bow Tie in Silk Moire Butterfly Self Tie – Fort Belvedere

5. Single-End Bow Tie

It’s called that way because it has that bow tie shape only on one end. Once you tie it, it looks very similar to a regular bow tie with the exception that it’s cleaner and crisper because there’s simply just one layer of fabric. This style was popular for a short period in the 1930’s, especially for evening wear. To my knowledge, we’re the only place who offers those kinds of bow ties online.

Bow Ties of English Madder Silk Wool Challis - Handmade by Fort Belvedere-8113

Bow Ties of English Madder Silk Wool Challis – Handmade by Fort Belvedere

What Are Bow Ties Made Of?

In terms of bow tie materials, it’s pretty much as varied as it is with ties. Silk is probably the most popular and widespread material and it comes in all kind of shapes and weaves. It comes in shiny silk not so shiny silk, a coarser silk, silks with natural knobs in them and it’s just a wonderful material for bow ties. However, you can also find linen bow ties, cotton bow ties, blended bow ties, as well as wool bow ties. Personally, I’d stay clear of nylon or polyester bow tie because it’s just a lower end cheaper product that won’t look as nice. Another really great option for bow ties is velvet because it changes the look with the light and it can look very debonair especially with a dinner jacket.

Black Bow Tie in Silk Velvet Sized Self-Tie Butterfly - Fort Belvedere

Black Bow Tie in Silk Velvet Sized Self-Tie Butterfly – Fort Belvedere

One thing to keep in mind with bow ties is that a very fine weave that is tighter is always better because men usually grow facial hair and the bow tie is much closer to your hair thus picking on the fabric and if the weave is too loose, let’s say in the form of a grenadine, you’re much more likely to pull threads from your bow tie. And even if you have a tighter woven silk, it’s normal to pull out some threads but you can get rid of those either with a very fine pair of scissors or with a cuticle clipper, for example.

In terms of bow tie sizing, you don’t have to worry about it if you get an adjustable bow tie. If you get a fixed size bow tie, I suggest measuring your neck because sometimes your shirt says it’s a size 15 when in fact, it measures 16 inches.

When & How Should You Wear A Bow Tie?

Basically, the sky’s the limit. You can wear it for very formal events, for weddings or garden parties, black tie or white tie events. In my experience, there are four tips I would tell anyone who is considering wearing a bow tie.

1. Always Practice Tying Your Bow Tie

Just so you understand how it works even in a stressful situation because I can’t tell you how many grooms have contacted us the day of the wedding trying to understand how to tie a bow tie.

2. Keep it Simple

When you’re just starting out, keep it simple. Use classic patterns such as small micropatterns or Macclesfield neats and avoid super loud paisleys and prints.

3. Buy Moderately Sized Bow Ties

You can wear them now or 10 years from now and that will never go out of style.

4. Wear One With A Jacket

Otherwise, it reminds me more of the little flower boys at weddings where they wear little dress shirts with bow ties. Of course, ultimately, the choice is entirely up to you.

Too loud and large bow ties

Too loud and large bow ties

5. Do Not Go Overboard

When you wear a bow tie, keep in mind that it already makes a louder statement than wearing a regular necktie or no necktie at all. Because of that, we suggest not to go overboard with super bright pink colors, lobster patterns, or maybe even patchwork bow ties with madras, seersucker, and other fabrics, because it’s simply over-the-top.

How Many Bow Ties Do You Need?

Of course, the answer is, it depends. Personally, I probably have around 100 or even more. Other people get away with just three or four. A general person who’s interested in classic men’s clothing should probably invest in about 11 of them.

  • If you’re just starting out wearing bow ties, I suggest you invest in a simple black bow tie that you can wear for evening events. Go with silk.
  • The second bow tie would be a classic business bow tie, maybe in blue or in red with a smaller micro pattern that is very easy to combine with lots of items in your wardrobe.
  • The third bow tie would be a slightly brighter color that you can wear in the summer, maybe even with seersucker.
  • The fourth bow tie would be a fall bow tie. I suggest you get this one in a wool challis. Simply because it’s a great fabric for the fall-winter season. It comes in more subdued colors. It’s a little crisper. It doesn’t wrinkle as much and it doesn’t have any shine.
Wool Challies Bow Ties with Polka Dots by Fort Belvedere

Wool Challis Bow Ties with Polka Dots by Fort Belvedere

What Makes Fort Belvedere Bow Ties Special?

Basically, we source very high-end fabrics from small weavers exclusively in England and in Italy. It’s not something you can find at department stores or at places that sell bow ties for 20 bucks because the fabric for a bow tie already costs more than that. We also strive to use the proper interlining for a bow tie so it ties very easily. On top of that, we offer our bow ties in different shapes and different sizes. We have an extensive selection of evening bow ties for black tie and white tie that is unparalleled and you won’t find a better selection elsewhere. All of our bow ties are self-tie. The day ones are adjustable. The evening ones are fixed neck sizes. And of course, we also offer single end bow ties which you can’t find elsewhere. Are you a fan of bow ties? Why or why not? Comment below!